Pet Bad Movies: Never Too Young To Die

I think all of us who have somehow glommed on to Bad Movies as a hobby all have certain things we keep on the shelf to trap the unwary. Things so gloriously terrible that their very existence defies expectation. So of course we look for any opportunity to inflict them on our fellow man. I call mine my Pet Bad Movies™, and they are glorious.

Today’s feature was one I came across in the early ‘90s when holed up in my apartment with a terrible cold. In those days, whenever I was sick, I’d take a trip to my handy dandy local video store (remember them?) and pick up whatever looked worst before going home, loading up on the cold medicine, and settling in for an evening of crap cinema. I believe I picked this up to form half of a double-feature with Trick or Treat, a particularly silly heavy metal horror flick, which starred Skippy from Family Ties as a misunderstood headbanger who accidentally kills off about half the population of his high school by resurrecting his favorite metal musician from the dead.

The reason it made a good companion piece is that both films contain performances by KISS bassist and sometime vocalist Gene Simmons, who, in the early ‘80s, decided that he was going to be a movie star (yeah, I know, you’d have thought he’d have learned from KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park). Over the couple of years he worked in Hollywood he turned out fare ranging from the low-budget, but competent, sci-fi thriller Runaway to our subject today, which falls so far below that standard that it transcends competence to become a true piece of trash art. Folks, I present Never Too Young to Die.

Even the poster tagline makes no sense!
Even the poster tagline makes no sense!

We open with a gathering of Road Warrior extras with torches standing at the top of a dam somewhere over Los Angeles. I’m pretty sure this is the only pre-apocalyptic film ever made. By which I mean that the baddies all dress like something out of a random Italian Mad Max ripoff and, as we’ll see later, their preferred mode of transportation is motorcycles covered in dead horse skins, with the occasional rag-draped dune buggy for variety. Meanwhile everyone else in the movie lives in a perfectly-modern (in a 1980s way) universe. Seriously, I was so stoned on DayQuil (it’s the dextromethorphan component, makes me nutty) the first time I saw this that for years, until I tracked it down again, I fully believed it was a post-apocalyptic movie.

A very ugly woman, Velvet Von Ragnar (Gene Simmons), comes out to harangue them with such choice sobriquets as “my little turdballs, my little scumbuckets” and lays out the whole villainous plot in the first 30 seconds of the flick. Apparently, they are going to access some computers to redirect radioactive waste to poison the entire water supply of the city below. Why? “For gold, for ransom, for jewels, for money” of course. I have no idea how this is supposed to work as I can’t imagine transporting radioactive waste through pipes, particularly pipes that somehow connected to a municipal water system, nor how that would make you rich, but then again I’m not a psychopathic hermaphrodite (the movie’s word, not mine). Now my theory is that his minions dress sense is their way of getting a jump on the apocalypse they are planning to cause.

Everyone starts chanting something about RAM K (to save you a lot of confusion that the movie doesn’t see fit to clear up for ages, the RAM K is the computer disc with which Velvet plans to divert the radioactive waste, no it doesn’t make any sense, just go with it), but the RAM K has been stolen fromthe  bad guys, so they prepare sacrifice a slutty biker chick (by the end of this movie you will be utterly sick of the term “RAM K”) to “The Finger”. Not “The Finger!!!” For what it’s worth, “The (index) Finger” has a sharpened fingernail, making it something less than the most intimidating weapon of doom of all time. This is reinforced when Simmons loses the nail during the killing-the-traitor scene and it’s not actually in the next shot when he holds “The Finger” up threateningly. Before she dies (remarkably quickly, that must be a hell of a poison on that nail), she reveals that she gave the disc to someone named Stargrove. “I want Stargrove!”

And only after this folderol do we finally get some opening credits. These will serve to help solidify the movie’s credentials as a firm contender for most 80s thing ever. Lance Stargrove (John Stamos, natch) jumps on a trampoline over his own obnoxious theme song gymnastics montage. It’s an obnoxious earworm titled Stargrove (“Stargrove! He’s running through the danger zone!”). Everyone else in the facility (sweaty metrosexual men) does gymnastics, while John just bounces, because he has no gymnastic ability whatsoever. Well,crap, George Lazenby pops up in the opening credits, which doesn’t bode well for his post-Bond career. After the bouncing is over, but before the damned song ends, we also get our first glimpse of Lance’s Nerdy Asian Roommate™ Cliff (Peter Kwong) in awful 80s clothes, who is sending Lance test answers on a big Seiko calculator watch. Because that’s komedy gold right there.

Pic5The last few components of what passes for exposition in this mess follows immediately as we establish that the roommate is a supergenius, building weapons and spy gadgets in the dorm (folks, we have our ersatz Q!). They have a whole collection that they just casually keep in their room. Yes, of course that includes the super-flamethrower, what could possibly go wrong? Despite having such a super cool life and attending a super-ritzy private university, poor Lance is sad because Daddy (he’s a “troubleshooter for oil companies”, *cough* *cough*) doesn’t care about his gymnastics tournament and doesn’t generally turn up for parents’ day. But hey, he did send a nifty care package (aha, methinks I spy a plot point or two).

Given what we’ve seen so far, you’ll be utterly unsurprised to discover that the real reason Daddy isn’t there is because he’s really super secret agent Stargrove (poor George Lazenby). He’s trying to hunt down Von Ragnar in his secret underground lair. Without revealing too much, let’s just say it’s obvious who the traitor on his Velvet hunting team is (and hence what the big reveal near the end of the movie will be), which doesn’t say much for Stargrove’s observational skills. Lance is doing rings when his dad is attacked by the post-apocalyptic Roadies from the opening scene. I do give this scene credit for containing one of the worst falling dummy scenes ever, (it bends in half backwards upon landing with knees over head), which earns it points in my book. Dad is captured and we will cut back and forth between Lance on the rings and Stargrove, Sr. being threatened by Von Ragnar until the moment wonder Daddy is murdered (no, we are still in the first 10 minutes of movie, that in no way counts as a spoiler). Lance falls poetically at the exact moment of his father’s death.

Gene Simmons is especially ridiculous here and sets up a bit that will continue throughout the movie, where each time he does something particularly EVIL, he laughs like a hyena and rolls his eyes back in his head.

OK, now that we’ve set the plot in motion, how about a love interest?

And conveniently, the very next scene will introduce a mystery chick in whory clothes (lace half-gloves, see through lace skirt and all, did I mention it’s the 80s?) who turns up at Stargrove’s funeral. Eventually she will be revealed as Danja Deering (Vanity) whom Lance will soon help rescue from a giant barbarian with a morning star (what the everloving hell?). Danja was a fellow agent who worked with Lance’s father and the two loathe one another on sight, which means they should be having sex some time in the next half hour or so.

From here on out, we will more or less spend the rest of the movie alternating between set pieces, where first Lance will get in trouble with Velvet’s goons and Danja will save him and then Danja will get in trouble with Velvet’s goons and Lance will save her, with the occasional appearance of Cliff to help rescue them both with the use of all the Chekov’s gear from the dorm.

Where's Bob Mackie when you need him?
Where’s Bob Mackie when you need him?

Highlights include a visit to Von Ragnar’s nightclub (because all charismatic, preapocalyptic, hermaphrodite gang leaders are also famous nightclub owners, right?). Velvet’s entrance must be seen to be believed, as Simmons makes the world’s ugliest Cher drag act ever to perform (despite having once dated the lady herself). Hilariously, Simmons must have written the lyrics for his sprechstimme opening as he would reuse some of the lyrics for the song Spit on the Revenge album several years later (“Got no manners and I’m not too clean, but I know what I like if you know what I mean”).

There’s also a pretty nifty car/bike chase scene, although it does serve once again to highlight just how stupid the horsehide covered cycles are, particularly as they aren’t even real, manly motorcycles, but lightweight sport bikes (125s? 250s? I can’t tell). The dune buggy isn’t much better.

The best part may be the appearance of Robert Englund. He knows how much this movie sucks and will ham it up every time he appears. He’s so much better an actor than anyone else involved in this tragedy, that he figures a way to steal every scene he’s in. Yes, that’s right Freddy Krueger manages to steal the spotlight from a six-foot tall Gene Simmons dressed in drag and going all out with the camp. Seriously, no matter how far in the background he appears, he will prance around like a flying monkey providing much needed entertainment for the rest of the movie. Many years ago, Liz, over at And You Call Yourself a Scientist, coined the term Nut ‘O Fun to describe any background object in a movie that is so bizarre and attention-getting that it constantly distracts your attention from whatever is going on in the rest of the scene. I am therefor declaring Robert to be this movie’s living Nut ‘O Fun.

Wanna see me caper?
Wanna see me caper?

Oh, in case you were interested, Robert is the mad scientist behind the water-pollution plan and has all the radioactive waste that the plot requires ready to go.

Stuff happens, stuff happens, “The Finger!”, stuff happens, really (and I mean really, let’s put it this way, it involves an apple and a garden hose) awkward sex scene, more stuff, RAM K,  even more stuff, inevitable betrayal,  you get the general picture.

The final confrontation will return us to the high dam overlooking the city and will be left to your imagination except to say that this movie contains not one, but two, count ‘em, TWO of the worst falling dummy scenes in the history of the motion picture.

So what’s the overall take? I gotta say, this movie is a lot of fun with the right audience (you, several like-minded or simply extremely gullible friends and at least a rack of good beer) and I pull it out semi-regularly to inflict on folks. It has the advantage of being obscure enough that even my hardest-core B-fan friends are unlikely to have seen it (it had brief official VHS and possibly Laser Disc releases, but no one has seen fit to put it out on DVD). Re-watching it alone (and sober) for the purposes of this review was a somewhat more painful experience.

For one thing it just seems so damn long, this is mostly due to the things-happen-until-we’ve-reached-our-statutory-running-time structure. Very little of what is going on serves the plot, but simply fills time and (arguably) looks cool until it’s time for the final confrontation between Lance and Velvet.

The complete lack of charisma or acting ability in our two stone-faced leads is also a major problem for the movie.  Let’s face it, while John Stamos may have been gracing the cover of Tiger Beat every week, it wasn’t for his acting ability. The only reason he had such a successful run on Full House was the fact that the role actually called for a vacuous prettyboy. Vanity fairs no better.  Her biggest claim to fame, such as it was, was as one of Prince’s musical protegés and the best you can say about her is that, as an actress, she makes a hell of a singer (see also her turn in The Last Dragon). Neither seem to realize they are in a James Bond parody and play things so expressionlessly that it becomes much funnier than if they had given it the slight wink-and-nod that the material really deserves.

Judging from some of his other work, Gene Simmons can act, and he gives the part his best shot, but it’s too ridiculous a role for anyone to escape with their dignity intact.  Given his sheer size and presence (not to mention his reputation as, well, a manslut), he won’t be winning any awards from RuPaul anytime soon.

Still, overall the movie is hilariously over-the-top goofy fun and you could do a lot worse than to track down a bootleg (Note from our lawyers: GalaxyJane does not advocate breaking copyright law), invite your favorite movie-riffing pals, crack open a cold one (or a nice box of wine), and have a great what-the-hell-is-going-on-now evening.

Until next time, folks!

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